Paris, 13th District
Paris, 13th District
  • Director: Jacques Audiard
  • Writer: Jacques Audiard, Céline Sciamma, Léa Mysius
  • Stars: Lucie Zhang, Makita Samba, Noémie Merlant, Jehnny Beth
  • Release Date: April 15, 2022 (IFC Films)

Paris, 13th District Trailer


Paris, 13th District is a melancholy yet tender-hearted exploration of millennial romance that captures the luminescent cityscape of Paris through an honest, loving gaze. The film, directed by Jacques Audiard and co-written by Audiard, Céline Sciamma, and Léa Mysius, follows a series of love affairs that are both fleeting and predestined that take place among a group of young adults who live in the city’s titular arrondissement. It is true that the film’s original French title is Les Olympiades, which refers to the twelve buildings that serve as a commercial and residential hub in the treizième district of Paris. Following the plot of several different comic books by the American cartoonist Adrian Tomine, the film’s various narrative strands intersect and diverge with purpose, effectively mapping the often illogical trajectory of falling in and out of love. Despite the fact that Paris, 13th District is exquisitely shot and superbly performed, certain segments of the film feel more fleshed out than others, particularly because of one couple’s inimitable kinetic connection.

During the opening credits, Émilie (Lucie Zhang) is seen naked on a couch, singing drunkenly into a karaoke microphone, and anticipating the embrace of her lover Camille (James Franco) (Makita Samba). Their demeanor is playful and sweet, and they are caressing each other with a sense of contentment that fills them. This is where their love story begins, but the film quickly informs us that this is not where their love story begins—rather, this is how it plays out in the present, with the film bringing us back to demonstrate how “it began like this.” Émilie, who works as a sales representative for a phone company and lives in one of the aforementioned Olympiades buildings in an apartment that was once owned by her grandmother, feels lost and uninspired. She is desperate for a roommate in order to pay the rent, and she is initially receptive when Camille shows up in person to answer her ad for a roommate.

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Although she had intended to share the space with a female co-inhabitant, Émilie is persuaded by their undeniable sexual chemistry to give him the room. Having Camille, who is simultaneously working on his doctorate and teaching at a nearby school, is incredibly convenient. In reality, the pair’s arrangement as roommates with benefits quickly devolves into a one-sided hook-up, and they are forced to part ways. “I’m sure you’ll miss me,” one of them says before they part ways. Camille meets Nora (Noémie Merlant), a former law student who dropped out in the middle of her degree to avoid a cruel rumor. A few months later, Camille marries Nora. After meeting through Camille’s friend, they both end up working for the same real estate company that is in desperate need of revitalization. Nora, on the other hand, was a top seller at her uncle’s agency in Bordeaux, and she is able to quickly restore order to the workplace. Having fallen in love with her business acumen and commanding intelligence, Camille begins to have casual relations with Nora, though she keeps him at arm’s length. Because, after all, she is receiving all of the emotional fulfillment she requires from a newfound friendship with a cam girl named Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth), which is becoming less transactional and more mutually invested as their nightly chats progress.

So much of Paris, 13th District is predicated on the sexual language of both inconsequential flings and romantic trysts, with each encounter always revealing the characters’ own sentiments about the perceived permanence of the relationship. There is an equal amount of boredom, frustration, and self-consciousness as there is rapture, satisfaction, and friskiness. These characters are also revealed to be dealing with personal issues that are bound to seep into their sexual encounters—familial loss, unresolved trauma, and dashed dreams, to name a few. These difficulties are not uncommon, but their severity is lessened when each individual goes through a series of relationships until he or she finds a compatible partner who can, at the very least, provide a temporary reprieve from the stresses of life outside of the bedroom. In a characteristically French manner, the film also asserts that it is during the middle of the coitus that the pleasures and pangs of human emotion are most clearly revealed, providing a glimpse into our most animal instincts and desires. A simple release—of sadness, joy, orgasm—can be all that we need to make sense of our difficult circumstances at times.

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It is impossible to find a character who better straddles the ever-shifting line between self-satisfaction and interpersonal dejection than Émilie, if only because newcomer Zhang imbues the role with an authentic jolt of millennial malaise. With her job, her appearance, and her relationship with her family, she is undoubtedly given the most detailed narrative, though this narrative is frequently contingent on her dissatisfaction with all of these things. Camille, played by Samba, is a wonderful counterpoint to Zhang’s depressed Émilie, who is unburdened by the societal weight that stymies her on a regular basis. Additionally, the film’s rich black and white imagery highlights the beauty of polarity: opposites attract, resulting in a picture that is more complete and appealing than a picture composed of even-keeled shades of gray could ever be. Due to their oppositional nature, their chemistry is magnetic, making what appears to be a comparatively “average” romance crackle with tension despite the fact that it is a comparatively “average” romance. Their affair is made all the more romantic by the reality of their initial spark and subsequent fizzle; it is representative of a million true love affairs, no matter how formative or fleeting they may be. In comparison, the improbable connection formed between Nora and Amber Sweet doesn’t really hold a candle to the reality of their situation. In spite of the fact that Merlant is an experienced eroticism transmitter (whether for a betrothed portrait subject or a carnival ride), it’s difficult to believe that her strengths are being exploited in this film. She feels stifled and perhaps even miscast in her role as the timid, scarred Nora, and she wants to be someone else. If Merlant had taken on the role of Amber, she might have had a little more to work with.

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Despite the fact that the storylines do not always complement one another in terms of scope and depth, Paris, 13th District is a risqué wonder, displaying the simultaneous silliness and sadness of love in all of its manifestations. A loving resident’s eye is certainly trained on the landscape of Paris, which avoids outsider perspectives and blown-out romanticism in favor of something as tangible as the arrondissement depicted. Despite the fact that Paris has long been regarded as a romantic city, what truly distinguishes it as a popular global destination for couples is the seemingly endless presence of outwardly devoted lovers strolling down the city’s streets. In order to find the true essence of love, one does not have to look to Paris—let alone one of its 20 arrondissements—and it does not have to be contained within sloppy man-made borders. There are many places in the world where one can find that love is often painful—it can jade us, it can be taboo. Love can be excruciatingly painful to even contemplate, or it can drive us insane for even attempting it. In addition to liberating us from suffocating traumas, true, immutable love can also expose us to ourselves and reveal how shallow we may have been in the past. More than anything, to truly love and understand another person entails (at the very least an attempt) to love and understand oneself. You’ll be stuck with who you are for the rest of your life, even if a seemingly perfect and established relationship ends in divorce or separation.